Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £540,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 3lst day of March, 1934, for sundry Dominion Services, including certain Grants in Aid, and for expenditure in connection with Ex-Service Men in the Irish Free State, and for a Grant in Aid to the Irish Free State in respect of Compensation to Transferred Officers.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)
My right hon. Friend would have been only too glad to be here this afternoon in order to defend the policy which the Government propose, and to meet any criticisms which may be made; but he is at this very moment attending an extremely important meeting in the Geological Museum at South Kensington, and, therefore, in his unavoidable absence, I shall take the hint of my Noble Friend the Member for Newark (Marquess of Titchfield), and give my celebrated performance of a gramophone record representing "His Master's Voice."
Earlier in the afternoon a question was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I am sorry that he is not in his place to hear the point referred to. The suggestion he made, if I understood him correctly, was that my right hon. Friend, when this matter was discussed—or rather, when one of these matters, namely, the Supplementary Estimate referring to Newfoundland, was discussed—in this Committee some few months ago, gave an undertaking that the question would not be raised again until the Report of the Royal Commission which is now examining the whole question had been received. I think the hon. Member misunderstands what my right hon. Friend said on that 1502 occasion. What he said was that the question of a further Supplementary Estimate would not arise until June, and he then said that he expected that the Report of the Royal Commission would be ready and would be presented before that. He expected it, but he certainly gave no undertaking to this Committee that the report actually would be presented, and that the matter actually would not come before the Committee again until the report had been completed.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
It was 7th March. I will also give the hon. Member the exact quotation that my right hon. Friend gave. He said, in reply to the hon. Member for Bridgeton:I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance right away that, when the report of the Commission is received and has been considered by the Government, the House will have an opportunity of seeing the recommendations and will be able to judge then what ought to be done in the circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1933; col. 1107, Vol. 275.]He did not bind himself in any way to a pledge that the report would be received before June and before the matter had to be considered again in this Committee.
The Supplementary Estimate divides itself into two parts. The first refers to the Bechuanaland Protectorate. The financial position in the Protectorate has been causing anxiety for some time past, and my right hon. Friend at the end of last year appointed a commission to inquire into the whole financial and economic position of the territory. The commission has presented its report. It is being considered, and it will be published and laid before Parliament as a Command Paper in the near future. It makes two things quite clear, in the first place that the Budget of the Protectorate is unbalanced, and, secondly, that there is no immediate prospect of restoring equilibrium between revenue and expenditure. The primary causes for the state of affairs there are twofold. In the first place, the world economic depression has struck that country, as it has every other, and, in the second place, very great difficulties were created there by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Southern Rhodesia. That necessitated somewhat 1503 extensive defensive measures being taken by the administration of the Protectorate to try to prevent the spread of the disease into its own territory and, in the second place, the Union Government imposed an embargo on exports from the Northern part of the territory. That was not the end of the trouble. The administration was not successful in keeping out foot-and-mouth disease. It spread into the Protectorate at the very beginning of this year and further evil consequences to the territory followed from that. In the first place, additional money had to be spent on anti-foot and mouth disease measures and, in the second place, the surrounding countries imposed an almost complete embargo on exports from the whole of the Protectorate. That was blow number two.
Since the commission presented its report, a further disaster has befallen the country, because it is now suffering one of the severest droughts of recent years. None of this series of disasters could have been foreseen. None of them could have been under the control of the administration, and the obvious result of the coincidence of them all at once has been to reduce revenue and considerably to swell expenditure. It is now estimated that the deficit in the Budget of 1933–34 will amount to just over £120,000. To that has to be added the deficit at the end of last year, amounting to about £19,000, and it is to meet that situation that we are asking for the £140,000 mentioned in the first part of the Supplementary Estimate.
The second part refers to Newfoundland. Hon. Members are familiar with the position there because it was discussed in the Debate of 7th March last. For some considerable time past the financial position in the Dominion has been unsatisfactory and, since the autumn of 1931, special arrangements and efforts have been made to rectify the situation. But most unfortunately last December, when the time began to approach for the payment of the interest due on the external debt of the Dominion, it became clear that there would be, at any rate, a partial default unless we came to the rescue. We entered into close consultation with the Canadian Government and an agreement was reached that they should join with us in advancing to the Dominion the moneys required for the 1504 January payment. At the same time it was agreed that a Royal Commission should be sent out to Newfoundland, consisting of one member appointed by this Government, one by the Canadian Government, and a third by the Newfoundland Government, to inquire into the whole question of the future of Newfoundland, and particularly into these financial and economic difficulties that have arisen, with a view to finding a satisfactory and more permanent settlement of the difficulty. It was thought at that time that the Commission would have completed their task by now and that we should have had the report and been able to consider it and decide upon a more permanent constructive policy, but I regret to state that the Commission have not been able to complete their task. They arrived in Newfoundland in the middle of March. Since then they have been carrying on their investigations in Newfoundland and in Canada, and the problem is extremely intricate and difficult. I understand that the members of the Commission believe that a long-range constructive policy is required, and they have not been able yet to reach a final conclusion as to what that policy should be.
In the meantime they have been able to furnish us with information as to the present position. The Budget for this year was drawn up with very greatly increased taxation and with considerable economies, and it was hoped that it would balance, but, unfortunately, owing to causes somewhat similar to those recited in connection with the first part of this supplementary Estimate, owing to the world economic depression and the terrrible slump in the prices of Newfoundland's chief products, the Budget is not going to balance, and it is clear that there will be a considerable deficit once more. Therefore, we have had now again to consider the question of the interest payment due on the Dominion's external debt on 1st July. We hoped we should be able to make an interim arrangement, as we did on the last occasion. We have had discussions with the Canadian Government, and we hoped they would join with us again in making an advance to tide us over this difficulty pending the report of the Royal Commission. The Canadian Government did not find it practicable to join with us on this occasion and, therefore, His Majesty's Government have had to consider whether 1505 they would make the total advance that was required.
We have decided to do that for two reasons. In the first place, we felt that it would be extremely unfortunate if any part of the British Empire defaulted on its external debt, particularly at the present time. In the second place—this is the more immediate consideration—we felt that the position of Newfoundland ought not to be prejudiced pending the report of the Commission. For that reason, therefore, we would like to make an advance which would enable the interest payments to be made on 1st July. The terms of the loan which will replace the advance will be decided in the light of the Royal Commission's recommendations. It is a purely interim arrangement, pending the report of the Commission. We are very anxious to get that report as early as possible. We shall not have this problem satisfactorily settled until we can see along what lines we can construct a permanent policy. We have no reason to suppose that the report will not be at our disposal before this particular difficulty arises again.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
They will have had six months more than they had last time. I think my hon. Friend will recognise that it is an extremely complicated problem that they have to solve. This is a tentative arrangement, pending the receipt of the report. We believe that the position of the Dominion should not be prejudiced pending the arrival of the report, and we hope that the Committee will approve of our policy.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
Will the hon. Member say whether the external debt of Newfoundland is a debt which has trustee status in this country?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Part of it. The debt is partly owing to the United States, partly to Canada and partly here, and by far the greater part of that which is owing here enjoys that status.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Would I be in order, Captain Bourne, in moving "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," on the following ground—
The hon. Member would not be in order at this moment, because I have called the hon. Member for Gower.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
It is very unfortunate for the Committee and for the Under-Secretary who has just spoken that the Secretary for the Dominions is unable to be here today. It is not enough for the hon. Member to ride away with a denial that there was a definite undertaking that the commission's report should be available before his right hon. Friend came to the House again. I remember that on the evening when the previous Debate took place no hon. Member on this side took part. The Dominions Secretary when he asked for the grant-in-aid said that the Newfoundland Government, the Canadian Government and the British Government had come to an agreement, and he said that a commission was going straight away to Newfoundland with instructions to investigate the conditions there. He told us that they were to return and present a report to this House, with details of the conditions in Newfoundland, and that that would be done before a further sum of money was required. The commission, we were informed, were to apply themselves immediately to the situation, and their instructions were to report in time for us to consider the situation before June. Those were the words used. It was. with that assurance that we remained in our places and allowed the Vote to pass.
We do not blame the Under-Secretary for the absence of his chief, but we really should have required the presence of the Dominions Secretary to-day. We are sorry to have to utter some strong criticisms of the hon. Gentleman, because he for the moment represents his Department. We have very strong complaints against his presence here without his chief. We do not mind his addressing the Committee, but his chief should be here to answer for his own pledges and promises. The hon. Member has done what the Committee expected of him. He has made, as usual, a very clear statement, and he has been able to tell the Committee all the information he has. He is not responsible for the absence of 1507 the commission's report, but he knows quite well that the Committee cannot proceed to vote large sums of money without getting the information from him. We are taking this opportunity of protesting very strongly indeed. We want to go beyond this immediate sum of money. It is not solely the £450,000 with which we are concerned. We want to examine the whole question of Dominion debts, the special relations and the special circumstances to which the Under-Secretary has called attention. We are dealing with Newfoundland and Bechuanaland, but the question this afternoon is not confined to the Dominion and the Protectorate. This is more or less a general question. We cannot adjudicate and decide on one of these cases to-day, and on another case to-morrow, and imagine that we are making any contribution to the solution of the difficulty that prompts these people to come here.
We do not move a reduction of the Vote because we wish to add to the difficulties of Newfoundland, or the difficulties of the Dominions Secretary, but we are compelled to call attention to the postponement of the settlement of these disputes, and we would urge the point of view that in taking these special measures for the relief of Newfoundland to-day, and of Bechuanaland, and some time ago of Austria, we are not doing anything that approaches the real settlement which some day must be reached by the consent and will of this House. The process appears to be that when a debt occurs and interest is not paid the Government lend the debtor more money. That is what is being done to-day. We have been told that the financial position of these Governments is hopeless and impossible, that they are unable to balance their Budgets year after year. We know that they cannot recover themselves, because they are too hopelessly in debt. His Majesty's Government therefore say: "Let us lend them more money, and in that way persuade ourselves and them that we are conferring an advantage upon them." It is a case of adding new debts to old, a sort of homeopathic treatment.
That is the kind of policy pursued, and there is no indication that there is to be an end to it. The patient is almost on the point of collapse, and we do nothing to 1508 relieve him, but we maintain him in a condition of semi-collapse. The Dominions Secretary should have been here. He is the sort of direct person who would face up to the situation. He is incapable of self-deception. The right hon. Gentleman has prepared this plan. The Under-Secretary need not apologise. He described himself as "His Master's Voice." He really is not. He could not do the imitation. He possesses neither the vocabulary nor the apparent innocence of his chief. The Dominions Secretary stands "on his own" in these matters. However, there is a serious side to this matter. This kind of economics is unworthy of the House of Commons; it is unhelpful to the country, to the Dominions, and it only postpones the solution of the difficulty. The whole thing is unscientific. I call this kind of finance "hoodoo" economics, a kind of witchcraft business in which everyone deceives himself and everyone else. It is reliance on a formula prepared by the high priests at the Treasury or the Bank of England. They are the people who concoct these formulas and prepare the incantations.
The Newfoundland people are a hardworking people, and they are entitled to every kindness. But this is not a kindness to them. They cannot get any relief by this procedure. They will not get relief by anything done in this House to-day; their obligations will remain as they were last month and last year. It is a real unkindness to persuade ourselves and persuade these people that we are. doing the least bit towards relieving them of their difficulties. Time and again in this House the Chancellor of the Exchequer has declared it to be the policy of this country—a policy which he recommends to the Economic Conference—to help debtor countries to meet their obligations. This is not the way to help debtor countries. The way to help is to reduce those countries' debts. If anything was being done to reduce the burden of debts of Newfoundland we would be considering this question in an entirely different spirit. We are trying to prevent Newfoundland from defaulting, but as soon as she recovers we are to demand our full pound of flesh. Newfoundland is to be kept in a state of suspended animation, in the hope that when she does recover she will be able to pay her debts.
1509 I come from a part of the country where there has been great industrial depression. An hon. and gallant colleague of mine in the House the other day, in the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, referred to the enormous obligation of the local authority in his neighbourhood which had borrowed money at 6½ per cent. and had to meet the interest and repayment charges in the course of the next 60 years without any possible prospect of relief. Here is a neighbourhood almost entering bankruptcy and no assistance is to be provided, but this House pretends to relieve the people of Newfoundland and to pay their debts for them. Advances are made in order that the liabilities of Newfoundland may be met without in reality doing anything to relieve the people of Newfoundland. What we have done and are doing to-day is to pay the interest of the moneylenders who hold Newfoundland and other parts of the Empire in bondage. This House is voting the resources of the mother country in order to meet the claims of moneylenders at home who have lent money to Newfoundland under the pretence of assisting Newfoundland. The money will not go to Newfoundland at all. We are handing over £400,000 in order to pay to the moneylenders in the City of London the interest which they expected to get but cannot get from Newfoundland. It is a very dangerous precedent.
Newfoundland is not the only Dominion which is in difficulties. There are the two great Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, and anyone who read the speech of Mr. Forbes at the World Economic Conference or his speech at the Conference at Ottawa cannot but feel sympathetic towards these people who are our own kith and kin and are so far from the mother country and from the markets for their produce, and who have been, through no fault of their own, saddlied with the enormous responsibility year after year of the repayment of money to this country. They find themselves in the position, because of the fall in world prices of agricultural products, of being compelled year by year to hand over twice the volume of commodities required even four years ago in order to pay the interest charges on the debt which they owe to us. We are virtually strangling the economic life of those two Dominions because of our insistence upon the repay- 1510 ment of debt. No one is unsympathetic towards the poor fishermen, the iron-ore miners and the small farmers in Newfoundland. I have seen those people and have shared their life. I know the conditions under which they live. The lot of the people in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and other provinces is very hard indeed.
It is the duty of this House to face up to the real nature of the problem. To postpone this matter by sham generosity six months after six months is only to delude ourselves and the people whom we pretend to serve. If this is the right policy, do not let us assume that it will end here. It must be applied in the case of each Dominion, and if the people at home get to hear of the generosity of the Secretary of State for the Dominions they will want to know why that generosity cannot be applied to the derelict areas of the North-East Coast, and South Wales and other places in this country. We heard a taunt yesterday from the Front Bench that a Member on this side of the House had a bow and arrow mind. It was a joke. We took it as a joke, and there was no offence meant, I am sure. But this is a bow and arrow policy. It is a question of applying stone-age finance. It is a case of the regulation of Dominion finance under the pretence that we are all so nice and friendly and are members of one family, and have a common interest.
We on this side protest against the further fooling with this kind of thing. If the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs were here to-day, we should ask him to apply his practical mind to this problem. I join the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary in responsibility, and I ask them to get down to the real problem and work for the readjustment of debts between us and all the Dominions—and Empire settlement of debts, if you like—without waiting for the World Economic Conference or for America and other States. Why cannot we proceed with an Empire settlement of debts in order to enable Newfoundland, Canada, New Zealand, all those communities of hardworking, practical people, whose hopes and aspirations have been damped down, to get real relief? We are not satisfied that what the Government propose is the best way to deal with this matter, and we protest and shall vote against 1511 this Estimate unless the Minister, before the end of the Debate, gives us fuller satisfaction.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) said that the Under-Secretary had given the Committee a full and clear statement in submitting the Supplementary Estimate to the Committee. The Under-Secretary addressed the Committee with that clearness and charm to which we are accustomed and which we appreciate. but there were at least two material aspects upon which he did not give us information. They are very material to the question, and we ought to have definite enlightenment upon them before the Committee agree to vote this sum of money. The hon. Gentleman did not carry the matter any further than when the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs submitted the original Estimate early this year. It is very material that the Committee should be told definitely whether or not this is to be the last of such proposals to be submitted. There was nothing in what the hon. Gentleman said to-day which would lead us to suppose that he may not be coming again in the month of November with an exactly similar proposition.
The hon. Gentleman said that a certain amount of information had been received from the Royal Commission. I do not know whether it is due to the receipt of such information that there has been an alteration in the view of His Majesty's Government in the Dominion of Canada with regard to this transaction, because I think the Committee learned with surprise that they are no longer partners in this deal. Previously they went in on a fifty-fifty basis, and they have now withdrawn. The Committee may reasonably ask, and expect to be told, the reasons which have led the Dominion Government to withdraw from their share in the transaction. We have been told that the Royal Commission have given some explanation and have parted with some conclusions which they have reached, and the Committee would like to know whether it is due to that fact that the Dominion Government have made up their minds with regard to this proposition. The hon. Member for Gower maintained that it was not a 1512 kindness to Newfoundland to continue this procedure and add to their ultimate indebtedness. I am not prepared to express an opinion on that point. When we come to the Report of the Royal Commission we shall be in a better position to know the state of the Dominion.
§ Mr. CHARLES BROWN
Captain Bourne, may I call your attention to the fact that there are not 40 Members present?
I would remind the hon. Member that, when less than an hour ago a Division was called, there were many more than 40 Members present.
§ Mr. WHITE
The Committee should know the reason why the Dominion Government have withdrawn from their partnership in this particular deal. We are anxious to do everything possible to help the Dominion which, like many other parts of the Empire, is suffering from the special distresses of the time, but we have embarked upon a very serious principle if we are to guarantee the interest and meet the obligations in respect of loans which have been contracted under conditions over which we have no control, and which have been spent upon objects which are equally outside our control, and it will lead us into very deep water. Indeed, we may be led to take on what may be an impossible task if we are asked to extend this principle to other parts of our overseas possessions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) suggested that there had been a breach of faith in coming down to the House with a Supplementary Estimate before the Royal Commission had reported, and the Under-Secretary has suggested that that is not the case. I do not wish to be an arbiter on that particular point, but my impression, after hearing the Debate, was that, whether there was an undertaking or not, there was in the mind of every Member present at the time a very clear understanding that this matter would not be raised again until the commission had reported. I feel sure that if that had not been the case there would have been a much more prolonged Debate, and the Committee would have found it more difficult to make up their minds whether or not to vote on this proposition.
1513 It is not merely a question of what was said on that occasion, but many Members had in their minds, as I had in mine, not what happened on 7th March in the course of the Debate, but the statement which was made at the time the Royal Commission was appointed. We were given the membership of the Royal Commission which, I think, demanded the respect and assent of the House, and at the same time a statement was made with regard to the purposes for which it was appointed. It was not merely to deal with the present question, but also to suggest means by which the present loans, or loans at that time, were to be repaid. It was to proceed to Canada early in March, and we now know that it started its labours towards the middle of March. It was intended that it should complete its inquiries in order to enable decisions to be taken and appropriate arrangements to be made before the debt interest due on 1st July next matured. It is no good splitting words on the matter. Hon. Members had in their minds, not merely what was said on 7th March, but the statement to which I have just referred. It is clear, whether it was literally a pledge or not, that there was an implied undertaking which has not been fulfilled. In view of the uncertainty with regard to the future attitude on this matter, some assurance should be given whether this is, or is not, the last occasion on which Estimates of this kind are to be produced and brought forward for sanction, and we are also entitled to ask for a satisfactory explanation as to the reason which led our partner in this transaction to withdraw.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
On the last occasion when this matter was discussed three hon. Members who took part were the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and myself. It is time that some protest was made against the conduct of business in this House. I do not say this jocularly. Whatever criticism may be applied to the House of Commons, some of us still believe in politics and in the House of Commons. The contemptuous way that we are being treated is beyond a joke. What happened to-day at Question 1514 Time? It is not merely that the Under-Secretaries and the Parliamentary Secretaries are not answering, but the Whips, who confess that they know nothing about things, are answering. The thing has gone to such an extent that even Under-Secretaries are not deigning to come to the House of Commons. The World Economic Conference, a trade gathering or a flower show are important, but the one place that has ceased to be important is the House of Commons.
Yesterday the Minister of Agriculture did leave the Economic Conference and come to the House to introduce his Bill. He stated that he felt that he ought to come from the Conference to the House of Commons. Nobody will say that the Dominions Secretary is any less capable than the Minister of Agriculture, but nobody will say that he is any more capable. In ordinary parlance, both Ministers have something to contribute to the World Conference, but if they could spare the Minister of Agriculture yesterday from the Conference, surely it was only common deeency for the Dominions Secretary to come here today. In the group for whom I speak our numbers are small and our powers are limited. Nevertheless, I make a protest, and I say that the time has come for a Vote of Censure on account of the contemptuous way that the House of Commons is being treated by the Government and by Ministers. At Question Time to-day nearly half the questions were answered by the Whips. The House of Commons is still entitled to some rights, and it is time that Ministers showed more regard to the House. But there is more at stake than the attendance of Ministers.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said that this was not merely what was said in a speech but the important thing was what was said on the appointment of the commission. Let me read what was said by the Dominions Secretary when the commission was appointed. These words make his presence all the more necessary. It may be true that the Dominions Secretary is of greater value at the Economic Conference than the Minister of Agriculture, and that he could not be here earlier today but he might have been here sometime to-day and we could have taken the. Local Government and Other Officers Superannuation Bill until his arrival.
1515 The Board of Trade Estimates have been put back, because I presume the President of the Board of Trade had to be at the Economic Conference. Surely some readjustment of business might have been made. After stating the Terms of Reference to the Commission, the Dominions Secretary said:The Royal Commission will assemble in Newfoundland early in March, and it is the intention that it should complete its inquiries in time to enable decisions' to be reached and appropriate arrangements to be made before the debt interest due on the 1st July, 1933, matures."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1933; col. 1730, Vol. 274.]Replying to questions by the right hon. and gallant Member for Neweastle-under-Lyme and the hon. Member for Bridge-ton, the Dominions Secretary made a further statement on the subject on the 7th March. In reply to a question by the hon. Member for Bridgeton he said:That is not true.It is becoming the habit of certain superior people to convey the suggestion that we are not telling the truth. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the hon. Member for Bridgeton was not telling the truth. He went on to say:It would be true if a similar circumstance arose in June, but I explained clearly to the House that I expected to receive the report before June, and therefore the £160,000 addition need not arise until then. I explained that to the hon. Member for Gorbals, and I thought his Leader understood it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1933; col. 1108, Vol. 275.]Here are quite definite statements made by the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will agree with me when I say that if one wishes to raise the level of politics, one ought to see that the things one denounces are not allowed to continue. I am not questioning the Under-Secretary in any way, but he has come here to-day and made a certain statement. He says that they have experienced some difficulties, but he has not told us the nature of the difficulties. He has told us that there is some kind of confidential report. The report is good enough for the members of the commission, it is good enough for anybody else to see, but it is not good enough for the House of Commons to see, and it is not good enough for the head of the Department to come here and explain it. If the Secretary of State had 1516 been doing his duty, we ought at least to have had an interim report as to the difficulties.
What is the practice in connection with any Commission when they encounter difficulties? They present an interim report explaining to the House of Commons, through the Secretary of State, the nature of the difficulties, and asking for longer time. We have had no interim report. We have had not a single scrap of information. We are simply told that something has happened. The report may be ready in six months. I asked the Under-Secretary when it would be ready and he said, in a superior way, that it would be ready then. How do we know that it will be ready? His answer was that the Commission were now tackling their job. They were tackling their job when the Secretary of State made his last statement.
§ Mr. M. MacDONALD
I said that there was no reason to suppose that the report would not be ready in six months' time. The hon. Member asked my reason for saying that, and I replied—I hope not in a superior way—that the Commission will have had six months more than they had the last time.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
We have no guarantee that it will be produced then. The House of Commons is entitled to protest against the action of a Cabinet Minister who makes a definite statement that there will be a report by a certain date, and when there is no report he does not come here to explain. We are entitled to Report Progress in order to call attention to this grave dereliction of duty. The Minister of Agriculture stated yesterday that his presence could have been useful at the Conference, but that he thought his presence was necessary in the House of Commons, capable as his deputies are. Capable as the Under-Secretary for Dominion Affairs is, I think the Dominions Secretary, in view of the difficulties that have arisen since the last Debate, ought to have been here. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead said that there might not have been a definite pledge, but those of us who were present considered that it was a definite pledge. (When a Minister or a Member of this House makes a statement I am prepared to accept it. I have never been let 1517 down by a Conservative, a Labour man or a Liberal on such matters, because I have found that they have usually kept their word. If the Under-Secretary says there was no pledge, I reply that the 20 or 30 hon. Members who were present at the last Debate took it that there was a pledge. The least thing that we could have expected was that the Dominions Secretary would have been here to explain the complete change of front.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
When this question was raised I had it in mind, and I have tried to get it confirmed, that it was necessary that this Estimate should be got through before the 1st July, and that that was the reason for bringing it forward to-day; but I also understood that there would be a Report stage. I do not want to cause delay to-night, and if we can have an assurance that on the Report stage, which we must have if this money is necessary by the 1st July, the Dominions Secretary will be here and the matter may be debated in his presence, that might satisfy the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton).
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
No one would have objected to other business, such as the Superannuation Bill, being brought forward until he came. We may have to readjust business. The Board of Trade Vote was down for to-day, but the business has been altered to suit the convenience of the Government, not our convenience; and the Government should therefore see that Ministers are present. The Government have altered the business to suit their own convenience, and have not had the decency to see that the Minister responsible is present.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I want to emphasise very strongly the protest made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). The position as it is explained becomes infinitely worse than it was before the explanation. The Government arranged this week's Business in which the 1518 Dominions Supplementary Estimate did not figure, it was not in contemplation last Thursday when this week's Business was announced, and yet some time between last Thursday and yesterday it was found that this Estimate had to be through by the 1st July;. and it is to be rushed through the House of Commons, in the absence of the Minister responsible, on a day when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury knew that a large proportion of his own party would be engaged in other places, at a time when they would be engaged in other places; and at a time when a large proportion of Ministers would be engaged in other interests outside the House of Commons.
I want to know precisely where we are in this matter. Were the Government unaware that something had to be done in this matter before the 1st July? Were they aware of it last Thursday? Was the Secretary of State for the Dominions only in touch with the Government as to the arrangement of Business between last Thursday and now, although something definite has to be done before the 1st July? The whole thing represents a mess; it is evidence of serious inefficiency either in the Dominions Office or in the general direction of Government Business—
§ Whereupon, the GENTLEMAN USHER OF THE BLACK ROD being come with a Message, the DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN left the Chair,
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.